Healthcare Thursday

Children's medicine - and FDA - under scrutiny: The House oversight committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on Johnson and Johnson's recall of children's medicine this morning. This is the second hearing examining the circumstances surrounding the April recall of more than 135 million bottles of Children's Tylenol and other popular pediatric medicines produced by Johnson & Johnson/McNeil Consumer Healthcare.

Ranking member Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is expected to grill Food and Drug Administration officials over what the agency knew about the recall. He released the following statement late Wednesday after receiving new FDA documents:

"Given the information that has come to light during our investigation, it’s clear that the FDA was inappropriately defensive and unconstructive when evidence contradicted their previous public statements regarding what they were told by J&J and when," Issa said. "Only after new documents came to light that revealed the FDA was in fact told by Johnson & Johnson about contractors buying Motrin off store shelves did they reverse course and acknowledge what the evidence had been pointing to all along. Now that we’ve set the record straight on what the FDA knew and when, the conversation now turns to how did this happen and what can be done to ensure that the significant problems at this critically important agency are addressed.  When it comes to the safety of the American people, there can be no room for ambiguity and inaction on the part of the entities we rely on to monitor the safety and quality of products like Motrin."

FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein is expected to testify that "(b)ecause of the Committee’s investigation, we now understand much more about the events … based on what we now know, the 'phantom recall' raises important questions for Johnson & Johnson, FDA and Congress."

Food safety bill teed up: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) filed cloture on food safety legislation Wednesday evening, setting up a vote when the Senate returns in November.

Child nutrition bill inaction decried: Advocates are pressing House lawmakers to pass the Senate's $4.5 billion childhood nutrition bill as soon as they return in November. The bill reauthorizes and improves a federal program that expires today.

Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, expressed her dismay at Democrats who blocked a vote on the measure because the bill is paid for in part by ending a temporary increase in food stamp funding five months earlier than expected.

"This wasn't a Sophie's Choice," she said. "An additional five months of the temporary increase in SNAP funding is a price worth paying for a lifetime of reforms and ten years of resources to address childhood hunger and obesity. The bill was more like choosing between your child and your pet fish. Like the temporary increase in SNAP funding, goldfish never live long anyway."

Erin Boltz, campaign manager for the Child Nutrition Initiative, said she was "extremely disappointed that the House did not make the needs of our kids a priority prior to the election recess."

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) had proposed denying tax deductions for expenses related to advertising fast food and to children as an alternative pay-for.

"It is wrong to cut food stamp assistance," Kucinich said. "In the Greater Cleveland Area there are over a quarter million people using food stamps to feed their families. We are trying to deal with a high level of unemployment, record foreclosures and poverty rates that continue to climb.  It is unconscionable to speak of any reduction in food stamp assistance to the increasing number of Americans who are dependent on it for their survival."

AHIP conference features slew of officials: AHIP's two-day 2010 State Issues Conference starts today and features Sandy Praeger of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and Jay Angoff, director of the Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight at the Health and Human Services Department. The forum will provide the opportunity to discuss, debate, and analyze the legislative and regulatory environment related to health care reform.

Physicians press for action on Medicare payments: The current fix to the Medicare physician payment formula doesn't expire until Dec. 1, but doctors are already pressing lawmakers to act during the lameduck session to avoid a pending 30 percent cut to rates.

"The AMA is calling on Congress to immediately address this impending crisis when they return to Washington after the November elections," said AMA President Cecil Wilson. "Without action to stop the cuts, Congress will create a Medicare meltdown with access to care threatened for seniors and the baby boomers who will begin entering Medicare in January."

Republicans introduce Medicare fraud bill: Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) introduced legislation Wednesday that they say is President Obama’s endorsement of several Republican proposals during the White House health reform summit.

"The status quo in Medicaid and Medicare is unsustainable and unacceptable. American taxpayers lose $100 billion in waste, fraud, and abuse in Medicare and Medicaid each year," Coburn said in a statement. "Congress and the Administration must do a better job of working to staunch this flow of taxpayer dollars that goes to crooks instead of providing care."

Pressure mounts on insurance companies: Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.) warns insurers not to drop children's coverage in a letter to AHIP President and CEO Karen Ignagni.

"I have written to Secretary Sebelius urging her to use the full force and extend HHS's authority to enforce the law," Casey writes, "and have asked that she keep members of Congress informed about any gaps in the law that may require future legislation."

The letter comes after Sebelius informed insurers that her department "would welcome" legislation being considered by some states requiring individual-market issuers that offer family coverage to also offer child-only policies.